Draco's Laws

Draco’s Laws


the first codification of Athenian (Attic) law set down by the archon of Athens, Draco, in 621 B.C. The recording of customs was accompanied by selection and revision. Extremely severe criminal laws were also included in the code: capital punishment was prescribed not only for theft, arson, or premeditated murder but also for trivial crimes.

A fragment of Draco’s laws has been preserved in an inscription dating from 409-408 B.C. From this inscription it is evident that banishment was prescribed for unpremeditated murder, but, at the same time, the law called for reconciliation between the relatives of both parties. If there were no relatives, ten members of the clan to which the murder victim belonged could allow the involuntary murderer to return to his country. In attempting to restrict feuds, Draco’s laws prohibited willful reprisals against the murderer, except in those instances when he was apprehended on his own land. The murder of a thief was not considered a crime if committed in self-defense or in order to recover stolen property. The norms for judicial procedure in criminal cases were also important.

Draco’s laws were apparently in effect until the reforms of Solon (594 B.C.); the norms concerning unpremeditated murder and self-defense, however, were retained in Athenian law for some time. The severity of Draco’s laws gave rise to the expressions “Draconian measures” and “Draconian laws.”